Impact of the 2020 Wildfires on the Oregon Wine Industry

staff at a vineyard

By: Becky Garrison

Dr. Gregory V. Jones, the Evenstad Director of Wine Education and a professor and research climatologist at Linfield University, describes in a telephone interview the weather conditions leading up to and causing the current wildfires in Oregon and the western US.

  “This unprecedented and likely a once in generation event resulted from a very large high-pressure area stretching from the desert SW to Alaska that brought extreme heat and very dry conditions to the western US. The dome of high pressure pushed the jet stream into northern Canada and forced cold air southward into the Rockies and the central US. This outflow of air brought strong winds from the east toward the west coast. These winds moved over numerous mountainous areas, warming, drying, and increasing in wind speed. The result was a dramatic drop in dew points, lowering relative humidity (to 8-20%) to desert-like conditions even to the coast. This same event brought cold air to the Rockies with temperatures dropping 60 degrees or more in one day and significant snow to the mountains and the front range.”

  Prior to Labor Day, the few fires in Oregon were starting to be brought into control. However, Jones charts how with the onslaught of the strong down sloping winds and drying conditions, small fires had the potential to become large very quickly.

  The result was catastrophic fire developments across the state with smoke covering much of the western part of Oregon and blanketing California. While most of the smoke in Oregon was at higher altitudes, over a few days the winds calmed, which helped the fire-fighting, but also allowed the smoke and ash to drop to lower altitudes in the Willamette Valley and elsewhere along the western valleys of Oregon and California and into Washington.

(As of this writing, the wildfires remain active with varying degrees of containment. An interactive map charting the wildfires is available here:

Impact of Wildfire Smoke on Wine

  In an email statement from Sally Murdoch, Communications Manager for the Oregon Wine Board (OWB), the OWB held an emergency session on September 21, 2020 where they approved tens of thousands of research dollars. These monies were in addition to what the Erath Family Foundation contributed for sampling and lab analytics at Oregon State University (OSU). This testing will start a file of data points on smoke in Oregon wine grapes and wines that will establish benchmarks from the vintage and the smoke effects on it. OSU will collect approximately 70 geographically-dispersed samples representing assorted varieties from vineyards across the state. After the grapes are tested, microfermentations from those samples will be analyzed to compile a total phenol profile for each wine sample. This is the first time fire or smoke drift pressure covered nearly every wine producing region in Oregon (effects were somewhat less problematic in the Gorge and The Rocks District).

  While much has been written in the media as simply fire + smoke + grapes = smoke tainted wine, Jones asserts, “A smoky wine is not a fire-smoky wine and not all smoke produces smoke impacted wines. What is clear is that the historical use of the term ‘smoky’ with wine has been tied to red wines that have spent some time aging in oak barrels which in turn imparts an aromatic characteristic of ‘smokiness’ to the wine,” he adds. 

  Jones points to how fires have occurred in and near wine regions such as Australia, Portugal, California, Washington, and Oregon with numerous reports of smoke ‘tainted’ or ‘impacted’ wines. “Aspects of how far the smoke travels, the smoke’s composition, the level in the air that the smoke is at, the timing during the vintage, and how long it lasts all play a role in whether any smoke impact might occur to the wines. The additional complication is that grapes may not have any direct flavor or aroma of smoke, but through the fermentation of the grapes a chemical transformation creates less desirably characteristics to the wine. However, 1+1 does not always equal 2 here, so I urge caution in how this conveyed.”

Effects of Wildfire Smoke on the 2020 Harvest

  Murdoch reports that some growers are experiencing smoke damage and are testing their fruit. “Smoke characteristics in wine this year are highly variable and site-specific.” Alex Fullerton, Winemaker for Fullerton Wines, agreed with this assessment in an email exchange. “Some vineyard sites have low to no smoke impact, and some were affected. We picked all our grapes, but made more rosé or white wine out of some of our red grapes that were most affected.”

  When asked about the impact of the wildfires on the 2020 harvest, Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director, Willamette Valley Wineries Association, offered this statement via email.

  “As always, the story of the harvest is ever unfolding. Every year brings new opportunities and challenges. Every year the winemakers’ job is to navigate what Mother Nature brings, and impart knowledge gained from the past with new and innovative resources. Our industry is working closely with the scientific community and universities conducting research on the topic to continue to contribute to our shared understanding of this industry-wide issue and help to inform ongoing research on the topic of smoke-affected grapes. We are proud of the vintage diversity the Willamette Valley enjoys—every year is special, and with each challenge our talented winemakers rise to the occasion to make wines of place.”

  Scott Zapotocky, Director of Winegrowing, Eola Springs & Chehalem Mountain Vineyards, Sage Ridge Vineyard, and Geodesy Wines, pointed in a phone call to some challenges they’re facing with this year’s harvest. “It’s making the harvest more difficult for sure given the Covid-19 safety requirements we’ve had to implement this year with working socially distanced and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. Then put on top of that the risk of the wildfires that may be around. It’s definitely added a level of stress.”

  Adding to this uncertainty is the delay of  lab testing analysis on this year’s grapes. According to Murdoch there’s a backlog of tests with 908 Oregon wineries eager to know what their wines’ smoke marker levels are. “The lab testing bottleneck is compounded by wildfire and smoke events in our neighboring states. We already knew there would be fewer wine grape tons harvested this vintage. September wildfires compounded that situation in some viticultural areas on the west coast.”

  Along those lines, Zapotocky adds that growers face the risk of rejected fruit from the wineries. “Then the grower has to try and find either a new home or figure out if they’re going to be able to take an insurance claim on the grapes. The ability to file a claim is continent on if they have insurance and what level of insurance coverage they have. 2020 is a very complicated harvest.”

Marketing Challenges for Oregon’s 2020 Vintages

  Dr. Damien Wilson, Professor at Sonoma State University, and inaugural Hamel Family Chair with the Wine Business Institute, stressed in a telephone interview the difficulty in predicting the future while still in the middle of an on-going challenge. In his estimation, smoke taint is only likely to become an issue if perceptions of its existence are coupled with press reports that it’s a problem. Most consumers lack awareness of it being an issue for wine, so “It’s essential to minimize references that contribute to a perception of any 2020 wine as ‘smokey’ or fire-affected.” Accordingly, practices aimed at preventing and/or minimizing smoke-taint in the cuvée will be essential.

  In addition to his view that doomsday predictions on smoke-taint are likely to be overblown, Wilson has increasing evidence that winery visitors during this year are providing influential testimonials on the perceived safety and intimacy of their tasting room experiences. He recommends that small producers can leverage such publicity to help expand their online presence instead of being too heavily reliant on local buyers. He states that “…[those] producers who don’t have web pages or use social media have had to pivot quickly. The ones who connected via virtual platforms have consistently been more successful in recovering, maintaining or growing sales.”

  In a statement released by the Oregon Wine Board, the leading variety in planted acreage and production in Oregon remains Pinot Noir which accounted for 59% of all planted acreage and 58% of wine grape production in 2019. Further analysis of these statistics reveals that statewide there are 41-42% of grape varieties who could take center stage as soon as next year. In this analysis, Wilson encourages winemakers to use their advantage that wine consumers are both comfortable and familiar with Oregon’s Pinot Noir. While consumers have begun to experiment with other varieties, during a crisis they tend to revert to those wines most familiar to them. Hence he encourages Oregon winemakers to remain cognizant of the value of their Pinot Noirs, and the potential to retain price premiums for those with established market awareness.

  According to McLaughlin, there less Pinot Noir may be produced this year from the Willamette Valley, wineries may shift and adapt programs to reflect the best of the vintage. “Winemakers are privy to a wide array of resources locally, regionally and internationally. And, we have to remember the region is vast and diverse. What is happening in one area of the region isn’t necessarily occurring in others. Individual producers are all handling the situation differently to produce the best wine possible in 2020.”

  Murdoch echoes this sentiment. “Although Pinot Noir is the leading grape in the state, our region continues to garner accolades for its Chardonnay, Syrah, Riesling and Sparkling wines.” Since many wineries harvested grapes for their sparkling wines prior to the fires, these wines will not be affected. In her estimation, wineries will instead be focusing on different varieties. “Uou will see more white wines from this vintage, as the grapes were inside and often had less smoke exposure statewide.”

  From a retail perspective Murdoch and Wilson do not foresee any major impact on consumer purchases, as long as messaging can be effectively managed. As Wilson observes, “While he industry will be talking about smoke taint and the memory of 2020, these issues are not likely to impact most wine consumers. There’s a premium attached to wine that comes out of Oregon. Consumers perceive these wines as being excellent quality and good value for the price.” Murdoch concurs, “Grape growers and winemakers are focused on building businesses over the long-term based on craftsmanship and value. Winemakers are aware of the reputational risk posed by releasing wines that might fall short of Oregon’s historically high-quality levels.”

How To Get The Most Out Of A Virtual Trade Show

rendered virtual trade show

By: Susan DeMatei

All indicators suggest we will continue our social distancing well in 2021, which means the late winter trade shows in North America will be chiefly virtual this year. The vast majority of us have never attended a virtual trade show, let alone hosted a booth in one. So, as we all venture into this new virtual age together, let’s discuss what to expect, how to prepare, and how to “walk through the virtual exhibition hall” to get the most out of this year’s upcoming events.


  Try The Software:  Your virtual conference will use an online tool you may not have downloaded or used before. Nothing is more frustrating than missing the first 10 minutes because you had to download and install an application. Don’t wait until the morning of the conference to download the software; check that it works on your computer and that you have sufficient bandwidth and a working camera and microphone.

  Ideally, during the weeks before the conference, take a quick tour of features and set up your profile name and company name so you can present your best self to the other attendees. If you already have the software on your computer, review the settings. This is not the time to be logged in as your spouse or child. If you have a profile section, fill it out, and upload a picture of yourself. Remember, this is your “face” to your industry colleagues.

  Plan Your Calendar:  Just because you’re not traveling physically, that doesn’t mean you mentally get to check out. People attend trade shows to participate in live sessions, make appointments, network, and look for new potential partners on the trade show floor. Make sure you block out time for each of these goals. Tell your co-workers and family that you are unavailable during these times.

  When you build your schedule, pay attention to live versus recorded sessions. If your day gets full, save the recorded segments for later times and dates.

  Virtual conferences aren’t just for learning – networking is possible even through a computer. Set up appointments before the event with colleagues. Attend happy hours or breakout sessions with other attendees. And don’t forget to give yourself some open time to browse content other attendees bring.

  Build-in Breaks:  One thing you would do naturally is sit down and have a cup of coffee or grab lunch when you’re attending a trade show. Don’t forget to build these in for your virtual tradeshow. These are your responsibility to include and are essential to allow you your brain to change pace to context shift from one activity to another. To keep yourself energized, try to vary activities – so schedule networking or “virtual coffee appointments” in between sessions where you’re listening for long periods.

  Consider attending with colleagues to boost your social engagement during the conference. You can accomplish this by communicating with each other between sessions or schedule a meeting afterward to share key takeaways and discuss how what you’ve learned might impact your work. You can also chat with people with Microsoft Teams or Slack during presentations. But be careful you don’t have too many channels going simultaneously, which will distract rather than focus your attention.


  Accessing Booths and Exhibits:  When you register, you’ll create an account with a secure username and password. At a later date, the conference should send you an invitation email containing a unique link to the virtual trade show. When the time comes for the event to begin, click the link and sign in.

  The conference should greet you with a welcome page, which may appear like you entered an actual lobby with people conversing and meeting. It should guide you into the exhibition hall, where you will find dozens of booths. Click on each booth to see what their services are, chat with an associate from that business, see a brief demo, and ask any kinds of questions you might have. You can also book a video chat appointment, or a booth might invite you to book a 1-1 time later that day. If you do schedule an appointment, the conference tool should track that and notify you via email. You can click on the various parts of the screen to access the exhibit hall, auditorium, or info desk.

  If you need help, there will be a technical help desk where you can speak with an event organizer directly or have questions answered about policies, terms, or the event in general.

  Attending Keynotes and Presentations:  Like any trade show, the conference will provide you with a booth map, a session schedule, and speaker bios. The difference here is this information will be accessible in the main navigation of the website versus on a printed program.

  If you have decided to attend speaker sessions, make sure you know the link/location for the talk and be there on time. Live notifications will appear on your screen with reminders about upcoming panels or keynote sessions so that you don’t miss them.

Overall Tips For Attendance:

1.  Participate: It may be tempting to remain an anonymous voyeur, but you’ll get so much more out of the session if you reach out to others:

•    Introduce yourself in session chats.

•    Contribute to discussions and ask questions.

•    There’s usually a networking lounge to connect with other attendees per session where you can talk through group or individual chats.

•    Participate with hashtags to continue the conversation on social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and Twitter.

2.  Pause: Zoom exhaustion is real when you are staring at a screen watching video presentations for too long without taking any breaks. You can get very tired, so a good recommendation is to periodically take a short break, stand up, walk around and get some food or something to drink. That way, you’ll get the most out of the event with those brief, regular breaks throughout the day.

3.  Focus: You’ll have to work a little harder than you would if you were physically there to be present.

•    Take written notes. The act of writing allows your brain another way of remembering than just auditory or visual cues. It also makes you take your fingers off the keyboard, which signals your brain to focus on the screen.

•    Take screengrabs of interesting charts or items to refer to later.

•    Watch in full screen, and turn off all alerts, so you don’t get pulled into an update on social media or an email.

4.  Stretch: Did we mention breaks? We will suggest it again. It is essential to get up and move every hour to give your brain a quick recharge.


  Most people plan on watching some of the on-demand sessions, but they rarely do. If you have recordings on your plan, schedule time to watch them within a week to keep the context and connections fresh. Also, reach out to your new contacts and review any downloaded videos or PDFs from vendors that first week after the conference.

  Above all, adjust your expectation that you’ll be passively watching other people online in your PJs at home. If you actively include yourself in virtual conferences and are committed to focused participation, you’ll be surprised by all the rewards you’ll find.

Susan DeMatei is the President of  WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

Viral Diseases in the Fall:

Grapevine Leafroll and Red Blotch

close up of a grape tree

By: Judit Monis, Ph.D.

As the fall season progresses, symptoms of virus infection become more pronounced in the vineyards.  Arguably, leafroll and red blotch are the most notorious and important viral diseases that manifest in the fall season.  Often, it is difficult to distinguish leafroll from red blotch disease symptoms in the vineyard.  This is especially true on red-fruited grapevine varieties.  In this article I will summarize and update information on the biology, symptoms, and transmission of the viruses responsible for these important diseases.  

The Viruses responsible forLeafroll and Red blotch Diseases

There are four different virus species associated with grapevine leafroll disease.   The viruses belong to one taxonomic family (Closteroviridae) and are named Grapevine leafroll associated virus followed by a number (GLRaV-1 to -4).  Because it has not been possible – to date – to complete Koch’s postulates with GLRaVs, the word “associated” is added to the virus name.  Koch’s postulates have not been completed with most of the viruses that cause disease in grapevines.   The postulates state that a pathogen must be isolated in pure form from a diseased plant, later the pathogen (virus in this case) is introduced to a healthy plant, and the newly infected plant must show the same symptoms as the original infected one.  Clearly Koch’s postulates are important because they could prove the cause and effect of a pathogen causing disease. 

  As I will describe below, researchers can tweak the definition of Koch’s postulates to prove that a virus causes a specific disease and drop the word “associated” from the virus name.   Within the Closteroviridae family, species of GLRaV are classified in three genera, Ampelovirus, Closterovirus, and Velarivirus. Grapevine leafroll associated virus -1, GLRaV-3, and GLRaV-4 belong to the Ampelovirus genus.  Grapevine leafroll associated virus -2 is a Closterovirus and GLRaV-7 is a member of the Velarivirus genus.  Some researchers claim that GLRaV-7 should not be considered a leafroll virus because it only produces mild symptoms in grapevines.   Further, recent research has shown that GLRaV-7 was isolated from a mixed leafroll infected vine and symptoms were due to the other leafroll virus present at the time.  When found alone GLRaV-7 does not appear to show typical leafroll symptoms.

  Grapevine red blotch virus (GRBV) is the second virus species discovered in grapevines that carries DNA instead of RNA as its genetic material.  Both its molecular and structural characterization has placed GRBV in a new genus, named Grablovirus, within the Geminiviridae family.   As stated above, it has been difficult to demonstrate Koch’s postulates, with grapevine-infecting viruses. There are many reasons for this.  Firstly, there are no alternative hosts that are susceptible to most grapevine infecting viruses (some exceptions exists). 

  Secondly and most important, grapevine viruses cannot be mechanically transmitted onto grapevines.  These viruses need to be introduced to a vine via grafting (graft-transmission) and/or need a biological vector for successful transmission.   Dr. Marc Fuchs team at Cornell University was able to demonstrate that GRBV genetic material is responsible for red blotch foliar symptoms in red fruited grapevine varieties.  The work was done using sophisticated recombinant DNA molecular techniques to introduce the virus genetic material into tissue cultured grapevine plants.   Time will tell, after the plants grow, if the infected vines also display the detrimental effect of the virus in organoleptic qualities of the fruit (i.e., reduction of sugar).

Viral Symptoms are Remarkably Similar

  Vines infected with leafroll viruses produce smaller grape clusters that ripen unevenly with lower sugar content. Foliar symptoms include downward rolling, reddening or yellowing of leaves depending on the grapevine variety. Other foliar colors associated with leafroll virus infection include pink, purple, and orange speckles. The leaf veins may remain green or take many other colors (yellow, purple, or red).  Grapevine red blotch virus infection may display different red leaf discoloration which usually appear spotty or blotchy. 

  However, these symptoms are indistinguishable from leafroll, especially when rolling of leaves are absent in GLRaV- infected vines.  In some cases, GRBV infected vines may display red veins, but red veins have also been observed in non-infected vines, and many red-blotch infected vines do not display red veins.  

  In my opinion, red vein symptoms cannot be used as a diagnostic tool.   In white-fruited varieties red blotch disease displays yellow blotchy discoloration in leaves. While the symptoms of leafroll and red blotch can be confused, these diseases are caused by different types of viruses that can often be found in mixed infections, complicating the visual diagnosis.  Although, the change in colors of the leaves in the fall is a tale-tell of virus infection, the most important negative effect of both GLRaV and GRBV infection is the reduction of sugar in fruit resulting in reduced Brix values and delayed fruit maturity.

  Some GLRaVs and their strains are more aggressive than others.  Researchers have described the Alfie (Australia and New Zealand), BD (Italy), and Red Globe (U.S.A) strains of GLRaV-2. These strains are molecularly similar and have been associated with graft incompatibility, vine decline and death.  Some researchers report that GLRaV-1 and -3 induce more severe symptoms than GLRaV-4. 

  However, symptoms vary depending on the grape variety, rootstock, and climatic conditions.  At the moment, two different clades of GRBV have been reported but no differences in their biology or effect on symptoms in the vineyards have been observed so far.  Just as seen with leafroll, the symptom expression of GRBV infected vines is affected by climatic conditions and the author has noted differences in the effect on sugar reduction in sunnier and warmer areas (i.e., California coastal areas with more fog and lower sunshine yield fruit with lower sugar concentration than the same grape varieties grown inland with more sun exposure).

Transmission and Spread of the Viruses

  Ampeloviruses (GLRaV-1, -3 and -4) are transmitted by sap-sucking insects (mealybugs and soft scale insects) in a non-specific manner.  This means, different mealybug and soft scale insect species can transmit any leafroll virus.  Research has shown that the citrus (Planococcus citri), grape (Pseudococcus maritimus), long-tailed (Pseudococcus longispinus), obscure (Pseudococcus viburni) and vine (Planococcus ficus) mealybugs as well as the soft scale insects Pulvinaria vitis and Ceroplastes rusci are able to transmit GLRaVs. Mealybugs and soft scale insects feed on the vine’s sap by inserting their sucking mouthparts into the plant’s vascular system (phloem). The honeydew excreted during the feeding process attracts ants that nurse and aid mealybugs to be transported to different positions of the vine or a different vine in the row. 

  Mealybugs may be difficult to observe as they can hide beneath the bark.  In these cases, ant activity and the growth of a black fungus (sooty mold) are good indicators of the presence of mealybug vectors in the vineyard.  No insects able to transmit GLRaV-2 or GLRaV -7 have been reported to date and their propagation (just like all other GLRaVs) is performed by humans who produce and distribute cuttings from infected vines.  

  Work by researchers at Cornell University and the University of California reported that the three cornered alfalfa hopper (Spissistilus festinus) can transmit the GRBV in greenhouse and laboratory conditions.  Although, the three cornered alfalfa hopper has been found in vineyard blocks where red blotch disease has spread, transmission experiments in the field have not been completed to date.   It is interesting that grapevine is not the preferred host for Spissistilus festinus that prefers to feed on legumes, grasses, and shrubs.  While research continues to determine if other vectors are capable of transmitting GRBV it is clear that the rapid expansion of this virus in vineyards was due to propagation and grafting of cuttings from infected vines.  This also explains the arrival of GRBV to many countries in Asia, Europe, and South America where GRBV had not been previously reported.   In summary, both, GLRaVs and GRBV are graft transmissible and predominantly propagated by producing cuttings of infected rootstock and scion material. 

Diagnosis and Status of Foundation Plant Material

  The distribution and concentration (titer) of leafroll and red blotch viruses is different in infected plant material.  While leafroll detection appears to be seasonal (best detected late in the growing season), detection of red blotch virus can be performed any time of the year.   Further, work performed in my lab showed that red blotch virus can be detected in high titers in any part of the vine.  The work showed that red blotch virus can be detected in any tissue tested, new or mature leaves, petioles, green or lignified canes, as well as cordons and trunks.  In contrast, leafroll viruses are generally found in low concentrations and are best detected in mature leaves, canes, cordon, and trunk.  If a vine has been infected through cuttings, the older the plant material is, the easier it is to detect GLRaVs. 

  Keeping both leafroll and red blotch viruses out of the productive vineyards relies on clean planting stock programs.  Sadly, a few years ago the University of California at Davis Foundation Plant Services (FPS) scientists announced the finding of a few vines infected with GRBV in the Russell Ranch foundation block. The block was planted with vines produced with a tissue culture technique that is capable of eliminating potential harmful viruses.  The block was tested using the “Protocol 2010” that includes a list of viruses that are harmful to grapevines.  Initially, four vines were found to be infected with GRBV in 2017, in 2018 the number increased to 24 vines,in 2019 the positive results were over 300 vines, while this year results showed that 788 are infected with GRBV. Until last year, the block was the source of California Registration and Certification Program (CDFA R&C) material to nurseries registered in the program. Because of the GRBV positive status FPS suspended the sale of vines from the Russell Ranch block.  To learn more about GRBV epidemiology, the GRBV-infected Russell Ranch block will be used as a research block to study the transmission and spread of the virus.   

  The block was tested using the “Protocol 2010” that includes a list of viruses that are harmful to grapevines.  Initially, four vines were found to be infected with GRBV in 2017, in 2018 the number increased to 24 vines, and in 2019 the positive results increased to over 300 vines infected with GRBV. Until last year, the block was the source of California Registration and Certification Program (CDFA R&C) material to nurseries registered in the program. Because of the GRBV positive status FPS suspended the sale of vines from the Russell Ranch block.  To learn more about GRBV epidemiology, the GRBV-infected Russell Ranch block will be used as a research block to study the transmission and spread of the virus.  


  This author is involved in applied research with the goal to determine the ideal process to protect clean planting grapevine stock and newly planted vineyards from infection of viruses and fungal pathogens.  Presently, information on what is the distance needed at the foundation and nursery blocks to avoid infection from diseased blocks is lacking. The results of the research will develop the best strategy to isolate and monitor clean planting stock.

  Until we have this information my recommendation is that nurseries and growers determine the health status of grapevine stock prior to planting to avoid the propagation and/or introduction diseased vines to the vineyard.  Yet, it is very important to isolate and monitor newly planted vineyards to avoid the introduction of disease via insect vectors.  It is important to remember that lack of symptoms does not always correlate with a healthy diagnostic result (rootstock varieties as well as non-grafted vines are usually asymptomatic), so it is best to test a statistical sample of the nursery propagated material to be sure of its health status.

  Judit Monis, Ph.D. provides specialized services to help growers, vineyard managers, and nursery personnel avoid the propagation and transmission of disease caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses in their vineyard blocks.   Judit (based in California) is fluent in Spanish and is available to consult in all wine grape growing regions of the word.  Due to COVID 19 Pandemic, Judit is available to perform virtual vineyard visits.  Please visit for information or contact to request a consulting session.

Fining Agents

agar plates holding fine substance

By: Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

Next to sound ripe fruit, great winemaking control during the harvest and excellent blending – finings trials are a next great resource to possibly “fine tune” your successful hard work.  This task is often overlooked or under performed due to time and the skill limits of the winemaker.  Fining agents must be used as a delicate tool to refine a wine or juice and one should not seek to make a flawed wine desirably drinkable with the wave of a “magic fining wand”.

  Before attempting to refine a wine with fining agents make sure the wine is aromatically sound and at optimum by doing a quick copper sulfate aroma trial.  This may be the simple action needed to bring in the aromatics desired and reduce or negate the need for a fining.  Always perform the fining trials and use a large spectrum of fining agents since not all wines and fining agents work/react as predicted.  We, as winemakers, are often surprised at unexpected findings.

  The most difficult portion of fining trials is to have an understanding of working with the limited and small volumes of juices or wines and how to apply the small scale lab trials to the larger tank volumes.  Once one has a clear understanding and methodology the tasks become easier.  It may take several fining trials under ones belt before it becomes second nature and the task becomes “a piece of cake.”

Equipment Needed for Fining Trials

  Most winery labs have the basics and one should be able to acquire additional items needed with little financial outlay.  Here is a list of basics.

1.   375 milliliter screw cap wine bottles (splits) – may reuse these.

2.   Accurate scales

3.   500 ml  beakers

4.   500 ml Erlenmeyer flasks

5.   Stir plate with magnetic stir bars

6.   Distilled water or winery tap water used for mixing fining agents.

7.   Graduated cylinders: 50 mil, 100 mil, 250 mil

8.   Pipettes:  1 and 10 milliliter serological pipettes

9.   Wine glasses – never forget the wine glass!

Some Common Fining Agents

and Their Projected Uses

  Casein:  This is the principal protein found in milk and milk is approved by the TTB ( Tax and Trade Bureau) to be added to wine.  Casein is positively charged and is used mostly as a fining agent in whites wines that have been in the cellar for an extended time – perhaps over two years.  The action of casein tends to clean up some color issues as well as remove some of the aged qualities including off contributing color compounds.  Each wine reacts differently to casein so trials must be performed in the lab, on a small scale, to understand how your particular wine will react.  Either follow the suppliers recommended rates or if using milk you may use up to 7.5 liters of whole or skim milk per 1000 gallons since that is the TTB limit. 

  Egg Whites:  (Albumin):  A very proven effective and soft approach used for a very gentle fining mostly on red wines in barrel.  Only the whites of the egg are used, mixed with a “pinch” of potassium chloride salt and a small amount of water.  Stir the egg white mix gently into the barrel and allow the wine to settle for 30-45 days.  For larger wineries that want to do a trial in the cellar one could use:  One egg white in one barrel, two egg whites in another, three in another and so on up to a typical maximum of 6 egg whites per barrel.  Make sure to do this on the same wine in barrels, of nearly the same age, for a good comparison tasting.  This would be an excellent way to do a cellar trial in the winery with very controlled results if you find fining trials difficult in the lab.  Dilution schemes of egg whites in the lab are difficult but do the best you can.

  Gelatin:  Gelatin is a great fining agent typically used early on in the juice or wine.  It is known for being aggressive and potentially “stripping” the wine is more likely with gelatin.  That said suppliers have rapidly introduced what I call “target specific gelatins” that can enhance or mute certain aromas, and modify specific areas of the palate.  These are much more refined products than say 20 years ago when “bloom and mesh” was the only real differentiation between different grades of Gelatin.  Gelatin is made from collagen in animals and typically binds with larger molecular weight [tannins / catechins etc] and removing more phenolic compounds from the wine.  So if a wine is heavy in tannins and phenolics a review of a gelatin fining trial may be in order.  Gelatin does absorb and remove color so use with caution.  As always – do trials in the lab first.  Because different products have different recommended rates I am steering clear of making any blanket recommended ranges to try and will refer you to the supplier of the specific product you care to experiment with.

  Isinglass:   An amazing agent because it is fish collagen or sturgeon bladders ( buoyancy bladder ) I am told.  Who in the world thought of adding this to wine?  This is a gentle protein fining agent used mainly on white wines to help elevate / improve the aromatics and improve clarity with improved lees compaction if used with bentonite.  Most likely used 30-60 days prior to bottling and while “finishing the wine out”.  A very gentle fining agent and worth trying in the ranges of 1/16 – 1/3 pound per 1000 gallons.   A very nice, soft fining agent and even try it with red wines – you may be surprised at the results in your trial and decide to use it on your reds.  Some colleagues in the Napa Valley have seen great results with Isinglass on their reds.

  PVP:  (Polyvinylpolypyrolidone)  This is a synthetic material that binds mostly to athocyanins (color) and catechins (smaller phenolic compounds).  Often used to remove browning in wines and pre-cursers to browning or brighten up a pink wine.  This agent also helps remove bitterness in some wines.  Most often used on wines but some also fine juices with PVPP especially on compromised or moldy grapes.  Range of use is between 0.5 and 5 pounds per 1000 gallons and wines must be filtered prior to bottling.

  Bentonite:  This is a widely used fining agent to achieve protein or heat stability in white, blush and light Rose wines.  Bentonite is a clay mined in areas of the world that contain high quality pockets of these materials.  Some bentonite is sodium based and other are calcium based bentonites.  Calcium bentonite is used often in sparkling wines as a riddling aid but most wineries use the sodium based bentonites in there typical winemaking regimes.  Trials with bentonite may be used to determine the amount needed to achieve heat stability.  Using bentonite up to 5 pounds per 1000 gallons shows minimal stripping and some varietals of wine may need upwards of 10.0 pound per 1000 gallons.  Conversely some wines may not need any bentonite although some winemakers see improved attributes to their wines with a small 1.0 pound per 1000 gallons even if no bentonite is needed for heat stability.  Heat stability is very important for your wines so consumers are not turned off by your label if your wine should throw a protein haze.  Give serious consideration and test all of your white and light red wines for heat stability.

  Sparkloid:   This agent “fell out of fashion” about two decades ago but it is back strong.  Try trials with this agent to get that extra sparkle in the clarity for your wine.  Technically a Polysaccharide and it is extracted from the cell wall of brown algae.  This agent is soft on color removal but enhances clarity and filtration.  Most winemakers use this agent in the 0.5 to 4 pounds per 1000 gallons and staying in the lower ranges.

  The above are not by any means the only fining agents used in the wine business but they are perhaps the most commonly used.  Many winemakers are starting to move away from fining agents, agents that remove things, to adding agents and building their wines.  With better fruit maturity winemakers report not needing to “remove to improve” but dialing in with items such as pictured here.  This is an ever expansive group of items with new items being added quickly.  Keeping in mind they are new we don’t know all of the long term ramifications of their use.

  Bottom line whether looking to fine or add – trials in the laboratory are essential and waiting to taste and test those trials can be beneficial so the wine and agents can “marry” and then allow the wine glass to show better what the results are and will be.

Other Helpful Tips with Fning Agents

  Make sure the wines or juices are low in Carbon Dioxide gas since the bubbles may attach to the fining agents preventing them from settling in the tank or lab beaker.

  All fining agents should be fresh and free of off or undesirable aromas and flavors.  Use cellar batches so results match.

  PH affects the rate of settling – lower pH wines settle faster in almost all cases of fining.

  The ultimate goal of a fining trial is to use the least amount of fining agent possible to achieve a desired improvement to a wine or a desired stability, such as protein and heat stability, needed prior to bottling.


  After reading this article, if your winery does not currently seek improved wines through fining trials, sit down for about one hour and start to develop a plan with a calculator.  Think of how you can perform fining trials in your lab and set aside future time to work with your plan.  You will be amazed at how much refining can be done to wine and how easy it really is.  Make this a part of your work improvement program this year!  Give it a shot!

  If you would like more information, please contact me (Tom Payette) at 540-672-0387.


Have You Fortified Your Workers’ Compensation Program?

wine tanks outside a winery

Even though there may be many aspects that are similar, the safety programs for every winery will in all likelihood look very different. Like any other effort to manage your risks, your plan will need to identify the risks you face and in turn determine how they will be managed.

There are many hazardous activities carried out in the wine industry that can result in a serious injury or even death if not managed properly. Your risks may include things such as:

•   The physical work environment

•   Occupational hazards(i.e. slips and falls, chemicals, cuts/lacerations)

•   Machinery, processing and substances used

•   Work practices and systems of work

•   Special events involving live music, weddings, special tastings, etc.

  A commitment to managing these safety and health risks is a great way for your winery to protect your greatest resource – your people. Spending time on health and safety can help create a better work environment and improve your worker morale. Winery accidents on the other hand, due to a lack of this kind of commitment, can have an immense impact on your injured workers, their co-workers and on their families in terms of pain, suffering, disability, stress and loss or change of employment. Your winery can incur direct costs that may include claims costs, increased insurance premiums, and fines. There are also indirect costs, which may include damage to property, the cost of finding and training temporary employees, and production or service interruption leading to loss of customers.  The total cost of an accident can be significant.

  At first, managing workers’ compensation for your winery may seem like a daunting task. You want to protect your employees while still keeping your premiums as low as possible.  There are many challenges to address. Avoiding accidents is a sure way to not only protect your employees but also keep your premium costs down. Where do you start? What should you focus on? A good way for you to begin is to identify areas that warrant your initial safety efforts by asking a few basic questions:

•    How frequently do safety incidents arise?

•    How will our management deal with them?

•    Who is responsible for mitigation efforts?

•    What costs are associated with each event?

•    What costs are associated with initiatives to mitigate them?

•    What safety and legal regulations are applicable to our organization?

•    What are the training and recordkeeping requirements?

  You might also ask your insurance agent to help you answer some of the questions above so you can determine your safety risks and in turn start putting together a safety program to specifically address your winery’s risks. In OSHA’s “Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines”, they suggest the following core elements be included in a Safety and Health Program to aid in managing workplace risks:

•    Management Leadership

      a) Top management demonstrates its commitment to continuous improvement in safety and health, communicates that commitment to workers, and sets program expectations and responsibilities.

      b) Managers at all levels make safety and health a core organizational value, establish safety and health goals and objectives, provide adequate resources and support for the program, and set a good example.

•    Worker Participation

      a) Workers and their representatives are involved in all aspects of the program—including setting goals, identifying and reporting hazards, investigating incidents, and tracking progress.

      b) All workers, including contractors and temporary workers, understand their roles and responsibilities under the program and what they need to do to effectively carry them out.

      oWorkers are encouraged and have a means to communicate openly with management and to report safety and health concerns without fear of retaliation.

      c) Any potential barriers or obstacles to worker participation in the program (for example, language, lack of information, or disincentives) are removed or addressed.

•    Hazard Identification and Assessment

      a) Procedures are put in place to continually identify workplace hazards and evaluate risks.

      oAn initial assessment of existing hazards and control measures is followed by periodic inspections and reassessments to identify new hazards.

•    Hazard Prevention and Control

      a) Employers and workers cooperate to identify and select options for eliminating, preventing, or controlling workplace hazards.

      b) A plan is developed that ensures controls are implemented, interim protection is provided, progress is tracked, and the effectiveness of controls is verified.

•    Education and Training

      a) All workers are trained to understand how the program works and how to carry out the responsibilities assigned to them under the program.

      b) All workers are trained to recognize workplace hazards and to understand the control measures that have been implemented.

•    Program Evaluation and Improvement

      a) Control measures are periodically evaluated for effectiveness.

      b) Processes are established to monitor program performance,  verify program implementation, identify program deficiencies and opportunities for improvement, and take actions necessary to improve the program and overall safety and health performance.

•    Coordination and Communication on Multiemployer Worksites

      a) The host employer and all contract employers coordinate on work planning and scheduling to identify and resolve any conflicts that could impact safety or health.

      b) Workers from both the host and contract employer are informed about the hazards present at the worksite and the hazards that work of the contract employer may create on site.

  By having an organized and integrated approach to the safety and health program for your winery, you can be well on your way to better managing the welfare of your employees and avoiding accidents and their associated costs.

Understanding Workers’ Compensation Basics

  Workers’ compensation was one of the first insurance programs adopted broadly throughout the United States.   It is designed to provide a satisfactory way to address the medical and economic aspects of employment related injuries.

  With this insurance, your workers’ are provided benefits for certain conditions sustained in the course of employment such as injury, disability, and death.  These benefits are paid without regard to fault in exchange for the worker giving up their right to sue  their employer.

  Most states have compulsory workers’ compensation laws requiring  employers to accept and comply with all provisions of the law. The purpose of these workers’ compensation laws is to provide benefits for any of your employees who suffer an occupational injury or disease. 

Important Wording Within These Laws Include:

•    A definition of “occupational injury” that appears in many state workers’ compensation laws is an injury “arising out of and in the course of employment.” 

•    “Arising out of employment” is generally interpreted to mean that the injury must arise out of a risk which is reasonably related to the employment. 

•    “In the course of employment” is generally interpreted to mean that for an injury to be compensable, it must occur when the worker is at work, during the hours in which they are expected to be there, and while they are engaged in the work that they are employed to do.  In other words it has to do with the time, place, and circumstances of the injury.

  While early workers’ compensation laws had no provisions for occupational disease, each state has now either incorporated occupational disease coverage into workers’ compensation  law or passed separate disease legislation.

  All workers’ compensation laws incorporate four types of benefits: Medical, Disability, Rehabilitation, and Survivor also known as death benefits.

•    Medical benefits provide payment for the medical treatment of an injured worker.  

•    Disability benefits compensate workers who are unable to work as a result of a work-related injury.

•    Most states have laws addressing workers’ compensation rehabilitation benefits and every state accepts the provisions of the Federal Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

•    Survivor also called “Death Benefits” attempt to compensate a surviving spouse, children or other relatives of a worker whose death results from an on-the-job injury.

  The most common funding method to pay for these benefits is a workers’ compensation insurance policy from a private insurance company.  Under this method you, as an employer transfer all compensation obligations to your insurance company, which then pays worker benefits to your employees and handles other details required by law. 

Fundamentals of Managing Workers’ Compensation Safety Program

  Reducing the frequency and severity of claims is the best way you can contain your total cost of workers’ compensation.  Written safety programs that address the hazards your employees are exposed,  along with top management support and effective employee training not only help reduce direct claims expense, but eliminate the indirect or “hidden” costs of workers’ compensation claims.  These programs can produce substantial savings for your winery over time, since related expenses such as: loss of services, cost of training a new worker, temporary help, and administrative expense are often multiples of the direct claims costs incurred.

Claim Investigation

  Your supervisors and managers will play a key role in preventing claims and must understand the importance of thoroughly investigating the causes of injuries and taking appropriate corrective action to eliminate unsafe conditions and practices that produce claims.   It is frequently your supervisors who play a pivotal role in the opportunity for, and success of return-to-work programs including: modified duty and transitional work programs.

  Actions taken by your supervisors immediately after an injury occurs can have a major impact on the ultimate disposition of your claims.  These individuals are critical since they are frequently the first to know of claims and have the initial opportunity to investigate, direct and manage events.

Claim Reporting

  Prompt reporting of insurance claims should be encouraged and is considered a best practice in workers’ compensation.  There are significant benefits for promptly reporting all of your employee injuries.  This includes:

•    Most states have reporting requirements for insureds to report claims on a timely basis and may impose monetary fines as a penalty for failing to report claims.

•    Prompt reporting allows the claim adjuster to complete a timely investigation of the loss to determine compensability and to determine an appropriate plan of action for resolving the claim.

•    “Red flag indicators” of fraud are able to be detected and this allows the carrier to determine whether a case should be referred for surveillance or if there is an opportunity to pursue subrogation against a negligent third party.

•    The prompt reporting of injuries allows medical treatment to occur within specialized occupational medical clinics familiar with treating workers’ compensation injuries with a focus on facilitating an early return-to-work to promote quicker healing.

•    In some states, workers’ compensation benefits may be reduced (or altogether denied) if there is confirmed evidence of alcohol or a prohibited drug on a post incident drug test.

Medical Control/Provider Selection and Management

  Proper selection of workers’ compensation medical providers, combined with effective referral procedures and ongoing provider communication programs can significantly reduce your claims expense. Medical providers must understand your winery operations and human resources philosophies, should specialize in occupational medicine, and be willing to work closely with your insurer.


  It is well established that returning injured employees to the workforce in a timely manner substantially decreases both direct and indirect costs.  Programs that focus on managing temporary disability, permanent disability and early return-to-work will have the greatest impact on reducing claims expense and increasing employee satisfaction and productivity.

  There are many approaches to establishing return-to-work programs, based on your winery’s culture and individual needs. They range from simple “modified duty” plans to fully integrated “total absence management” programs seeking to use the same practices and protocols to manage all time off work – both occupational and non-occupational injury and illness. In addition to reducing workers’ compensation expense, these programs can decrease your exposure under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other similar federal and state laws.

Know your Experience Rating or Experience Modification

  An experience rating or modification provides a financial incentive to reduce workplace accidents.  The rating does not apply to all employers.  Most small employers are not eligible.  Visit with your insurance agent to determine if or when you may qualify for an experience modification.

  An experience modification compares your winery’s loss or claims history to all other companies in the same industry that are similar in size.  A modification of less than 1.00 reflects better than average losses while over 1.00 reflects worse than average losses.  The modification increases or decreases the cost of your winery’s workers’ compensation insurance premium.  It must be applied to your policy regardless of the insurer.


  There are many things to consider as you attempt to “fortify” your workers’ compensation” exposures. Not only do you need to have controls in place to manage the safety and health risks inherent to your winery you also need to have systems in place to manage a claim should it occur. Having an integrated management system such as this can greatly help your winery in addressing these risks.

  This document is intended for general information purposes only, and should not be construed as advice or opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. This publication is not intended to be legal, underwriting, or any other type of professional advice.  Persons requiring advice should consult an independent adviser.  Markel does not guarantee any particular outcome and makes no commitment to update any information herein, or remove any items that are no longer accurate or complete.  

© 2020 Markel Service, Incorporated.  All rights reserved. 


Lodi’s Hidden Gem

woman holding a bottle of wine and glass

By: Nan McCreary

When wine aficionados think of Lodi, California, Zinfandel comes to mind. Yet, in this sea of red, is Acquiesce Winery, a hidden gem that makes nothing but white Rhône wines.

  When Rodney and Susan Tipton purchased an 18-acre plot of land near Lodi with a hundred-year-old barn and 12 acres of Zinfandel, grape growing was the last thing on their minds. They named the property “Acquiesce” after a k.d. lang song with the same name, which reminds one to acquiesce, or surrender to nature and enjoy the quiet. This was in 2000, and Lodi was buzzing with vineyards and wineries. Inevitably, the Tiptons developed an interest in the local wine trade. 

  “We started making wine as home winemakers and, at the time, I just happened to taste a Grenache Blanc from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and thought it was the best wine I’d ever had,” Susan Tipton said. “I tried to buy two cases, but the store owner said, ‘You are holding the last bottle in California.’ This is where we began our journey.”

Susan, who managed various enterprises while she and Rodney raised three boys, describes herself as a worker-bee, so she set out to learn all she could about white Rhône grapes. She discovered that only 6% of grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape are white, and most don‘t make it to the U.S. When they do, they are usually oaked and expensive.

  Winemakers in Lodi discouraged her from making white wines, saying she’d need red wines to stay in business, but Susan remained undaunted. “I fell in love with the Rhône wines, especially the whites in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape grouping,” Tipton said.  “I always thought white wine was treated as a second class citizen—you never see a 100-point white wine—so I wanted to do white wines, and I wanted to do them right.”

  Research on the Lodi terroir encouraged Susan to pursue her passion. The climate was similar to the Southern Rhône, with warm, sunny days to ripen the grapes and the delta breeze from the Pacific Ocean to cool the grapes at night. Plus, the sandy soil on their property was perfect for nourishing the grapes. She was convinced they could grow Rhône grapes, and grow them well. 

  In 2005, with Susan as the winemaker and Rodney as operations manager, the two planted their first grapes–clones of Grenache Blanc from Tablas Creek Vineyards’ cuttings, which originated from the famed Château de Beaucastel in southern Rhône. The success of these wines led the Tiptons to plant Roussanne, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc and more Grenache Blanc in 2009.

  “At the time, we were making so much wine that we had more than we could give to friends,” she said, “so we decided to open a tasting room in the old barn. We started a wine club too, and when it developed a significant waitlist, our members encouraged us to plant more grapes.”

  In 2015, the Tiptons planted more Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne and Grenache Noir, along with new varietal Clairette Blanche. In 2016, Acquiesce Winery was the first vineyard in the U.S. to plant Bourboulenc. All Acquiesce vines are cuttings from Château de Beaucastel.

  Early in this journey, Tipton hired winemaker Heather Pyle Lucas, one of the founding winemakers at Opus One Winery, to guide her through the winemaking process. Lucas, with 30 years in the industry and owner and winemaker at Lucas Winery in Lodi, assured Tipton that she could make world-class wines.

  “I was super excited about this,” Tipton said. “I was always the winemaker, but she worked with us for over 10 years as a little bird on my shoulder who was giving me helpful hints and instruction as we went along. She really helped us to create our vision.”

  That vision has come to fruition. Today, Acquiesce is truly a jewel in the crown of Lodi, the largest grape region in the world. As a one-of-a-kind vineyard, creating white wines exclusively, Acquiesce wines sell out every year, and its wine club is the hot ticket in town. The winery is also introducing people to the white wines of the Southern Rhône, which are extremely rare in the U.S. According to Tipton, their signature wine is the Grenache Blanc, the grape that “sold” her on Rhône wines.

  “Grenache Blanc is a one-off of red Grenache and has a big mid-palate like a red wine,” Tipton said. “People who think they don’t like white wines come to our tasting room and try the wine and say, ‘Wow, I’ve never had a wine like this before.’”

  Tipton attributes their success to a passion for the grapes and strict attention to detail. Grapes are estate-grown, hand-picked, whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel – no oak. “Our whole goal is to bring what’s in the vineyard into the bottle without interference.”

  The Tiptons farm their grapes according to the area’s “Lodi Rules”: over 120 farming standard practices that help farmers manage their vineyards sustainably. The rules are divided into six categories: ecosystem management, water management, soil management, pest management, business management and human resources. “Our vineyard manager certifies us every year,” Tipton said. “We live on the property, so it behooves us to make sure we’re doing what’s best for us and our customers.”

  In the cellar, Tipton carefully “babysits” the grapes during fermentation. “I’d made big reds—Zinfandels—on the property and thought it was pretty easy, but making white wines and rosés is very challenging,” she said. “I’ve talked to people in France who’ve said the same thing. It’s all a timing issue. I have to make sure the wine maintains a certain temperature during fermentation, I limit its exposure to oxygen, and I take care to fine and filter it properly. During this process, if you do one little thing incorrectly, the whole batch can turn out wrong.” 

  Rosés, she said, are particularly sensitive if the temperature and yeast are not quite right. Acquiesce produces a Provence-style rosé from Grenache, using the direct press method. According to Tipton, the grapes for direct press are picked at lower brix and higher acids than grapes harvested for the saignée method. This keeps the alcohol levels down and brings up the acidity, resulting in grapes with more perfumed aromatics and delicate flavors.

  Acquiesce wines are all of premium quality and single variety, with the exception of two blends: Belle Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier; and Ingénue, a unique blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc and Picpoul Blanc. The winery also produces a méthode champenoise Grenache Blanc that Tipton describes as “mineral-driven and crisp, a lush and elegant representation of Lodi’s terroir that pairs well with everything.” Tipton believes she makes the only méthode champenoise sparkling Grenache Blanc in the world, and she knows of only two other wineries in the U.S. making Clairette Blanche.

  Many of Acquiesce’s wines have won multiple national and international awards, with numerous Double Gold, Gold and Best of Class awards. In 2016, Tipton’s Viognier was awarded Best in the State at the California State Fair.

  While the Acquiesce tasting room is temporarily closed because of the coronavirus, the winery, like many others, is “pivoting” by offering virtual tasting experiences that include food pairings specially matched for each wine. These experiences are similar to what Tipton offers when the tasting room is open to customers.

  “We up our game and try to have conversations– whether live or online–about why these wines are special,” Tipton said. “When you pair them with the right foods, it can be life-changing.” Wines for the tastings can be ordered online at discounted shipping rates or picked up at the winery.

  As the Tiptons look to the future, they are content to stay where they are, producing 4,000 cases a year and selling their wines only out of the tasting room. Since they sell out of their annual production, they close the tasting room four months out of the year.

  “It’s basically just my husband and me, and we have two guys who help us during pressing, so we have no interest in growing,” Tipton told The Grapevine Magazine. “We called our property Acquiesce because we really wanted to surrender, but, in fact, we haven’t really acquiesced because we’ve been working so hard. But it’s been fun, and we have acquiesced to the grapes. That is our mantra: to submit to nature, to yield to the vineyard, to acquiesce to the grapes, so they present their own true character.”

For more information on Acquiesce Winery and their virtual tastings, visit their website at

Protecting & Preserving Wine Through Chemical Reaction:

Wineries Turn to Nitrogen as the Superhero of Industrial Gases.

bottle pouring wine smoking


By: Cheryl Gray

Nitrogen use in winemaking is a carefully orchestrated and scientific process. Its chief role is to guard against the adverse effects of oxidation, which diminishes both the quality and shelf life of wine. Consider the vinegar-like taste of a wine left opened or unfinished for too long and immediately understand why wineries use nitrogen to prevent oxygen exposure during production and storage.

  While multiple inert gases are available to prevent oxygen from coming into contact with wines, experts say that the choice of which industrial gas to use is linked to cost, availability and the type of wines produced. Nitrogen is a popular choice because it is in ready supply, making up roughly 80% of the Earth’s atmosphere. That means it is available at an attractive price versus other industrial gases.

  Penelope Gadd-Coster is Executive Director of Winemaking at California’s Rack and Riddle Custom Wine Services. She told The Grapevine Magazine that cost and efficiency are the reasons her winery opts to use nitrogen.

  “It is an inert gas, inexpensive…and there are generators for nitrogen, so outside gas companies are not needed,” she said.

  Like Gadd-Coster, proponents of nitrogen use in winemaking point to multiple benefits derived from deploying nitrogen gas generators, which allow wineries to produce nitrogen gas on demand. That, in turn, can help boost productivity. The use of a nitrogen gas generator also eliminates the safety risks associated with high-pressure gas cylinders. Additionally, those in-house generators bypass vendor issues that might include price increases, long-term contracts, delivery schedules, surcharges and tank rental fees. 

  There is also the benefit of low energy use, resulting in more stable long-term costs. The option to expand is attractive, too, since, with nitrogen gas generators, there is room for adding extra capacity to accommodate a winery’s growth.

On Site Gas Systems, Inc.

  One of the global leaders in gas generating technology is On Site Gas Systems, Inc., based in Newington, Connecticut. Its President and Founder, Francis X. Hursey, was among the veteran scientists and engineers who developed pressure swing adsorption oxygen technology for NASA’s Project Apollo space program, which sent the first humans to the moon. Hursey has received multiple patents in non-cryogenic gas technology, medical products and nitrogen applications. After developing PSA oxygen technology for the Apollo Breathing Air Team, Hursey would use that same core knowledge to launch On Site Gas Systems in 1987.

  Michael Montesi is Sales Manager of Commercial Products for On Site Gas Systems. He told The Grapevine Magazine about the design and features of one of the company’s latest nitrogen generators for on-site use.

  “We offer a newer unit called the Nitroblast that is specifically designed for the beverage industry,” he said. “The main innovation of this product is the compact size and all-in-one product integration. That is very cost-effective for the small user that might have been prevented from purchasing a nitrogen generator in the past.”

  Montesi said that nitrogen systems manufactured by On Site Gas Systems are based on continuous innovation, which ensures that the company is not only staying ahead of the curve but also defining it. He pointed to a research and development team whose members have decades of experience knowing how to deliver innovation without making it complicated.

  “We specialize in systems designed, sized and built for the correct purity, pressure and flow for each application,” said Montesi. “Our philosophy is to keep the simple processes simple and make complex processes less complex. This way of thinking has formed the basis for our product reputation–safe, continuous, flexible systems that provide cost-saving, reliable gas generation.”

Parker Hannifin

  Parker Hannifin is another global industry front-runner manufacturing compressed air treatment and gas generation products. The company produces a wide range of membrane module and pressure swing adsorption nitrogen gas generators. It’s been selling nitrogen gas generators to the wine industry for three decades.

  Randy Peccia is Product Sales Manager for Parker Hannifin in its Industrial Gas Filtration and Generation Division, based in Lancaster, New York. He explained how both membrane and PSA technologies allow users to generate on-site nitrogen gas with a compressed air source. 

  “Membrane technology uses bundles of hollow-fiber contained within a tube. The fiber walls selectively separate compressed air by permeating oxygen, water vapor and other waste gases to the atmosphere,” Peccia said. “Nitrogen molecules are retained within the walls of the fibers resulting in the delivery of nitrogen gas of 90-99% purity to the application. Some membranes are capable of achieving 99.5% purity. With no moving parts, membrane modules are a cost-effective, reliable and safe solution to on-site nitrogen gas generation.

  “PSA is a regenerative technology that uses columns filled with carbon molecular sieve to separate compressed air,” he said. “In the ‘online’ columns, oxygen and other waste gases are selectively adsorbed by the CMS, allowing nitrogen gas of 95-99.999% to pass through to the application. The CMS in the ‘offline’ columns is regenerated by releasing the pressure in the columns and venting the waste gases to the atmosphere. This constant swing in pressure between columns is why the technology is called pressure swing adsorption.”

  Peccia told The Grapevine Magazine that PSA technology is the primary candidate for wineries because of the purity levels it allows users to achieve. He added that depending upon the amount of nitrogen used at a given winery, Parker Hannifin’s PSA nitrogen gas generators can deliver, at minimum, a 12- to 18-month payback with low energy usage and stable gas costs. Peccia detailed the most common uses of nitrogen in wineries: sparging, flushing and blanketing.

  “During the fermentation process, oxygen will naturally dissolve into the wine. Sparging is a process where very fine bubbles of nitrogen are passed through the wine to remove dissolved oxygen. It is important to note that red and white wines differ in chemistry, and because of this, the use of nitrogen gas sparging may differ in production. For example, some wines require a certain amount of CO2,” he said. “To avoid removing CO2 below the required level, a mixture of CO2 and nitrogen is utilized for sparging. This is most common in production of white wines but required for some red wines.

  “During production, wine is transferred between multiple containers via pumps and hoses before becoming a finished product and sealed into a bottle. This adds the risk of oxygen exposure. Nitrogen is used to flush out oxygen within storage tanks, barrels, transfer pumps, hoses and bottles to prevent unwanted oxidation. Flushing is also used during bottling before a bottle is filled with wine.

  “Nitrogen can be used to blanket the ullage, or headspace, of partially filled containers used throughout the production process. Headspace is the result of not filling a container from top to bottom. This space helps to compensate for the expansion and contraction of the wine due to changes in ambient temperature. Headspace is also a factor during bottling where there is a space between the bottle seal and the wine. Blanketing the headspace of a container before a bottle is sealed helps to eliminate oxygen exposure,” said Peccia.

  Bars and restaurants use nitrogen gas in wine dispensing, reducing the risk of oxidation in a bottle of wine before that bottle is empty. That means those businesses can stretch the shelf life of a bottle of wine for one to two months instead of throwing out spoiled wine and, in the process, losing money on an unusable product.  

Necessary Caution

  Safeguards are a must when it comes to using nitrogen. Rack and Riddle’s Gadd-Coster explained why wineries have to exercise caution to protect their workforce. “It does displace air in enclosed spaces and so is dangerous in that respect. Enclosed space protocols need to be respected.”

  Suffocation is a genuine threat to workers if a nitrogen gas leak goes undetected. For this reason, most wineries use gas monitors, portable sensors and other gas detection technology designed to protect workers from oxygen depletion. Illinois-based PureAire Monitoring Systems services a vast array of food and beverage clients, including wineries. The company has a wide range of monitors for specific needs with features that promote ease of operation and longevity, such as a digital screen displaying an instant-read of oxygen levels and a zirconium oxide sensor cell. Its dual oxygen/carbon dioxide model includes both the zirconium oxide sensor cell and a non-dispersive infrared sensor cell.

  The use of nitrogen gas is a part of nearly every food and beverage processing industry, including winemaking. For a product whose optimal result depends on the right combination of artisanship and science, wineries are using nitrogen to heighten the taste and quality of their wines as well as their profits.

There’s a Closure for That:

Variety & Customization Enhance Wine Closure Options

3 cork screws

By: Gerald Dlubala  

The choice of closure options and accompanying customizations that awaits today’s winemaker can be mind-boggling. As has been the norm, the tried and true cork still holds the title of most requested. However, due to evolving technological advances, performance enhancements and environmental and safety issues, alternative options in closure choices may be just as viable and sometimes the more economical and efficient choice to preserve and market wine. Every aspect of packaging contributes to the overall cost, and closure choice is no different.

“Capsules and closures are pretty standard to our industry, serving as both a key element to the packaging while also providing any evidence of tampering,” said Melanie Thomas, sales and business development professional for Janson Capsules, a leading Napa-based manufacturer of capsules and screwcaps for the wine, spirits and gourmet foods industry. “Costs for capsules differ depending on what they are made of and the type of packaging needed, including stock or custom colors, decorations, size, embossing, hot stamping, etc. Generally speaking, Polylam capsules can be between $40 to $60 per 1000 pieces, while PVC choices will run the winemaker between $25 to $40 per 1000 units, and then tin capsules come in between $275 to $450 per 1000 pieces. Screwcap choices include factors like liner choice, finish, decoration and sometimes specific knurling needs that influence their price point. Their pricing runs between $85 to $200 per 1000 pieces, depending on those factors.”

  “Pricing is certainly a factor when choosing closures, but it’s usually not the only factor,” said Bobbi Stebbins, Director of Marketing at Waterloo Container Company, a premier supplier of wine bottles, caps, corks and closures to eastern North America. “It’s important to let your packaging provider know upfront what the important determining factors are in your closure choices, including things like recyclability or where products are manufactured. Knowing these factors upfront can help narrow down your closure choices. Manufacturing processes and standards are not the same from product to product or from country to country, so we can filter down your closure options and limit them to the available product options that you will be proud to have associated with your brand.”

  Both Stebbins and Thomas agree that a skilled and experienced winemaker will usually know what they want in a closure based on their brand characteristics, identity, price point and winery’s bottling equipment. On the other hand, newer crafters may have no idea where to begin when faced with such a vast selection of closures and options. Both Janson Capsule and Waterloo Container offer experienced, qualified customer service to provide suggestions if needed. Janson Capsules will work directly with a company’s marketing and purchasing departments to find the best closure solutions. Waterloo Container Company employs a closure specialist to ensure that the products sold will work well with each other functionally while providing consistency in brand recognition.

  Kenny Hall, Waterloo Container’s purchasing and closure specialist, told The Grapevine Magazine that Waterloo Container offers every type of closure a winemaker could need, with over 500 SKUs and over 50 million closures in stock. He said when choosing the appropriate closure for your bottle and project, attention to detail is critical. “Every closure is designed to fit with a specific bottle finish and product, so referencing closure technical data sheets is important. Taking the time to match this information with bottle drawings and finish ensures fit and performance.”

Put a Cork in It

  Cork is the traditional and most popular choice for wine closures, especially for those wines that age well. Cork is a natural and sustainable product with an innate ability to swell and form a tight seal within the wine bottle neck, thereby only allowing a minimal amount of oxygen transfer over extended periods of time. And now, thanks to modern processing, risk of the dreaded cork taint has virtually disappeared.

  When it comes to cost, natural cork runs the gamut. Punched, or high-grade natural cork, has the highest price point, while other options like an agglomerated natural cork can have the lowest. As a natural product, cork can have many variations that must be accounted for in its use as a closure.

  Synthetic cork is a popular, cost-effective alternative. It’s more predictable than natural cork when it comes to performance over the long run. However, it can include petroleum-based ingredients that may not be sustainable or recyclable and, if left in the bottle for too long, can impart a detectable aroma, according to some wine professionals.

Wine With a Twist

  “It’s true that corks are still the most requested closure amongst our customers,” said Stebbins.  “But skirted screw caps have jumped from 19% to 36% of our closure sales over the past four years. We feel that’s due to the skirted screw caps being well suited to the shorter timespan from production to consumption of popular East Coast varietals, including Rieslings and other sweeter white varietals.”

  Similar opinions prevail on the West Coast, with Thomas telling The Grapevine Magazine that, “Screwcaps are great for spirits but also increasingly popular for white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and the lighter Pinot Noirs. Oregon winemakers are using them more and more frequently.”

  “Screw capsules provide immediate ease of opening and reclosing capability,” said Stebbins. “With standard liners, both taste and freshness are preserved, so the wine you put in is pretty much the wine you pour out. The roll-on pilfer proof short or longer skirted styles require machine application, meaning there could be additional financial investment and technical expertise required, either in-house or by way of a mobile bottler. To help offset this, Waterloo Container offers a skirted option that can be hand-applied, which is a great fit for smaller craft winemakers.”

Bar Top

  Bar tops – sometimes referred to as t-tops – offer the widest range of customization options, including top and shank materials. Waterloo Container offers newer co-injected synthetic styles to alleviate the known problems of break-offs and general difficulty removing them from the bottle. Bar tops are gaining popularity for specialty wine products and allow for machine or hand application. They are generally easy to open and repeatedly reseal the bottle, making them a popular choice in spirit packaging.


  “Polylam capsules are the most commonly requested closure and are suitable for any type of wine, including premium wines,” said Thomas. “They are a cost-effective alternative when needed, or when the winemaker just wants to upscale from the PVC capsules… Tin capsules are better suited for the super-premium or exclusive wines that generally use heavier bottles and higher-end packaging. Tin is a great choice because of its unique texture and soft feel. Tin capsules bring a very elegant and expensive look to your wine bottle.”

  “As an East Coast distributor, we get more requests for PVC heat shrink capsules than for Polylam or tin capsules,” said Stebbins. “This may be reflective of the typical price points seen here in the east as compared to the west. Other bottle closure treatments, like heat shrink PVC capsules, are an easy and economical way to finish off the tops of wine bottles while helping the product get noticed on the shelf and provide tamper evidence. Sizing is important in these situations because the tear tabs used in these applications must be properly aligned to fit the type of bottle finish and closure combination.”

Sustainability and Recyclability

  Stebbins told The Grapevine Magazine that Waterloo Container has seen an uptick in environmentally conscious clients requesting specific information on its products’ recyclability and sustainability. Unfortunately, while the technology is available to recycle almost any type of closure, the reality is that the infrastructure to recycle is not readily available to all in the United States. All major vendors make claims and provide reports regarding the sustainability and recyclability rates of their products on their websites, and depending on different factors, those rates vary. For example, Amcor STELVIN screw caps boast an 80% recycling rate in Germany, while Europe’s overall rate is reported at only 40%.

  Janson Capsules offers fully recyclable products, including their E-Cap, manufactured from aluminum-based materials. Thomas said that more wineries are starting to consider this type of product based on market demand. They are an excellent alternative to the standard Polylam capsules that contain a layer of polyethylene, a non-recyclable component. Their tin capsules are fully recyclable and printed using water-based materials.

Thoughts, Trends and Innovations

  Thomas told The Grapevine Magazine that Janson Capsules is currently working on innovations in capsules and closures. Without getting too specific, they are looking to align their products with new technologies, environmental protection standards and new ways to consume wines.

  “I really believe that due to the unprecedented COVID-19 situation we are all living through, the way the wine closure industry has to operate to succeed will be tied to the local, sustainable and surely the digital world,” said Thomas. “Having full access to great support with excellent technical knowledge when needed is extremely important to our customers. We have to adapt to our customer’s needs and demands while also matching the bottle mold evolution and bottling equipment technologies.”

  Stebbins said they see a strong trend towards customization. “At trade shows, the first thing potential customers want is to be different. In an industry where the containers themselves are often a commodity, the closure becomes an effective way to stand out or differentiate your product. There is increased interest in shape, texture and customization, including changing from a simple one-color logo to more elaborate multi-color decorating and embossing. Enhancements to the actual bottle finish that work with the closure are drawing interest as well. For example, we have a new lightweight Bordeaux bottle that is made in America and features an innovative accessory bead that is added to the finish. The bead facilitates a more accurate screw cap closure application and helps to prevent pull-offs.”  Affordability and versatility have become even more critical in this unprecedented year.

“Because of the COVID-19 situation, we saw an expanded need to provide inexpensive closure options of all types to home winemakers, smaller wineries and even for the hand sanitizer market,” said Stebbins. “As a result, we now stock several new closure solutions, including a hand-applied skirted 30X60 mm capsule and some tamper-evident continuous thread options. These allow smaller producers to offer the convenience of resealable closures at more manageable, lower minimum order quantities without the increased cost of additional application equipment.”

  “The bottom line is one size does not fit all,” said Stebbins. “The bottle finish and contents will ultimately determine what your closure options are. It is important to procure closures from a reputable and knowledgeable vendor who can ensure this compatibility to protect your investment.”

Modern Approaches to Alternative Wine Packaging

wine packaging machine

By: Alyssa L. Ochs 

Long gone are the days when wine only came in standard bottles. For some traditionalists, this is a tragedy, but for many wine enthusiasts, it’s an exciting time for innovation in the industry.

  Modern technology has paved the way for wine to now be packaged in cans, boxes, bags and pouches. There are pros and cons to each packaging method, yet single-serve portability is a top priority among wine consumers, driving growth in the alternative packaging industry.

Types of Alternative Wine Packaging

  One of the main bottle alternatives on the market today is wine in cans. Aluminum cans are a popular option because they are recyclable, easy for on-the-go consumption and offer a single-serving option for enjoying wine. Wine boxes, also known as bag-in-the-box, feature an air-tight bladder inside a paperboard container. This type of packaging is cost-efficient for the manufacturer and the consumer, and it’s easy to pour and reuse for multiple wine-drinking sessions.

  Tetra paks are mostly made from recyclable materials, making them an eco-friendly wine choice with air-tight seals for long-lasting wine. Another option is lighter-weight glass bottles, which reduce the thickness of the glass wall and remove the indentation from the bottom of the bottle. Flat wine bottles were first introduced as novelty gifts, but they are also viable alternatives for taking up less space, reducing transportation costs and reducing a wine producer’s carbon emissions.

  Meanwhile, kegged wine has been growing in popularity as an on-premises option and offers by-the-glass pours at restaurants and bars. The next wave of wine products is getting even more creative with wine packaged in tubes, triangular-shaped bottles and other eye-catching specialty shapes that capture the imagination. 

Pros & Cons of Packaging Options

  As with all aspects of winemaking, there are pros and cons to the various wine packaging options available to wineries today. Many alternatives weigh less, don’t break as easily and produce fewer greenhouse gases than traditional bottles. Alternative packaging allows for more experimentation opportunities for wineries curious to try creative flavor profiles in single-serve portions.

  Tim Orr, the president of TORR Industries in Redding, California, told The Grapevine Magazine that some alternative packages are beneficial because they offer more advertising space than glass bottles, which only have a few inches of space for branding. Founded in 2007, the TORR Industries management team has over 50 years of combined experience in filling bag-in-box, stand-up pouches and shelf-stable extended shelf-life food products, as well as bulk aseptic packaging. TORR designs and manufactures wine filling, packaging and dispensing solutions in its Northern California facility.

  Alternative packaging options typically succeed better than bottles at allowing the same container of wine to be enjoyed over multiple days. However, wine may not age as well in alternative containers, which is a problem for certain types of wine. Glass bottles excel at keeping oxygen and microbes out of the wine and preventing it from going stale or growing mold while retaining the best flavor. Although attitudes are changing, the perception still exists that wine in alternative packaging is of lower quality than wine in glass bottles.

Cost Considerations

  Although style is important when choosing wine packaging, the ultimate decision often comes down to cost. Bag-in-box wine is economical, and by putting more premium wine into boxes, a producer’s profit margin may increase. Transportation costs can be lower for alternative packaging because lighter loads without heavy glass are cheaper to carry, especially when shipping wine across the country or overseas.

  However, packaging costs may increase if a winery chooses to switch gears entirely and buy expensive equipment to accommodate new packaging strategies. This is especially true if a winery is still in the experimental phase of package design and isn’t yet sure if the packaging style will resonate with consumers or maximize product quality over time.

Life Expectancy Considerations

  The amount of time that wine stays fresh should always be a top priority when choosing a packaging strategy. Glass bottles are known for their long shelf life and can last for decades because glass does not chemically react with the wine.

  Wine packaged in cans should have adequate acidity to maintain the freshness of flavors and help it last longer. There have been considerable strides in technological improvements for both oxygen control and bag films. Ten years ago, consumers would often find bag-in-box wine to have inconsistent taste and quality. However, this is hardly a concern today, thanks to the high-tech fillers propelling this industry into the future. 

Machinery for Different Packaging Strategies

When a winery decides to change packaging types, it often needs to upgrade its equipment to handle new demands or outsource packaging to a specialized company. The machinery required to make a switch may include canning machines and filling equipment.

  Delkor Systems has recently developed cutting-edge packaging machinery for the wine industry – Delkor’s Performance Case Packer with patented Intelligent Synchronization technology. Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Delkor makes case packers for bottled, pouched, canned and bag-in-box wine, as well as cartoning machines for canned wine and a bag-in-box closing machine. The Intelligent Synchronization equipment design is compact and new to the wine industry, offering two useful applications: the automatic cartoning of eight-ounce wine cans into four- and six-count paperboard cartons, and case packing of the paperboard cartons into boxes for shipment.

  “It controls product flow and pattern building, effectively reducing machine footprint, costs and changeover time,” Dale Andersen, the president and CEO of Delkor, told The Grapevine Magazine. “With Intelligent Synchronization, Delkor has been able to reduce the footprint of its wine can carton loader or wine can carton case packer to just a six-by-six-foot frame and reduce machine changeover to less than eight minutes.”

  Andersen said that this technology would eventually replace current case packer designs because it does electronically what many machines currently to do mechanically. This “smart machine” eliminates guide work and other machine points that cause both container and label damage, so it is natural for use in the wine industry. In 2021, Delkor will be introducing a compact Performance Case Packer for wine bottles and one for bottle unloading – both with its patented Intelligent Synchronization.

Following What’s In-demand

  While weighing the options of packaging types to use for wine, learn about what’s most in-demand with consumers right now and why. Currently, top priorities among wine drinkers, especially the younger generation, are portability, on-the-go usage and discretion. Alternative containers can also offer the benefits of being less breakable and having a different type of wine for your second glass instead of committing to an entire bottle of the same wine.

  Bag-in-box wine has become increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic because of budget concerns and more time spent at home rather than going out to wineries and bars. Even before this, bag-in-box wine gained significant traction among younger drinkers between the ages of 21 and 35. Another consumer demand is a heightened focus on environmental sustainability, which can be addressed through packaging design.

Wine Packaging Trends

  It may be essential to observe wine trends when reconsidering how to package wine. Right now, there is a movement to make wine more affordable and accessible to new consumers – often younger consumers who have different standards and preferences than wine drinkers who have been enjoying bottles for decades.

  There is also a trend of putting higher quality wine into alternative forms of packaging, hoping to change the perception of non-bottled wine and open up people’s minds about what makes a good wine. These higher-quality offerings, paired with more creative marketing and advertising strategies, catch new consumers’ attention. That attention then propels alternative packaging products forward and opens up the market for new packaging players with innovative ideas.

  Orr of TORR Industries has noticed a huge growth in the bag-in-box wine industry and much more demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that canned wine has seen a growth curve of around 1%, where bag-in-box packaging is closer to 20% of wine sales, up from approximately 15% a couple of years ago.

  “I attribute this to the fact that the stigma of boxed wine is going away since this is a great option for not having to drink the whole bottle because coronavirus is leading to more home consumption and because of better techniques to control the oxygen.”

  Orr said that his company is building and selling equipment to top wineries because it injects nitrogen and vacuums the bag to purge the oxygen before filling. In this way, his machinery gets oxygen levels down under 2% rather than the 20% standard that this packaging used to have with older technology.

  Andersen of Delkor has observed that the movement of wine into cans is a significant change in the industry. He and Ryan Broughton, Delkor’s sales manager, told The Grapevine Magazine that what their customers in the beverage industry are talking about most is single-serve. Cans offer an alternative for a new class of wine consumers not focused on the quality aspects of glass bottles, but more on convenience. According to Andersen, “one could make the argument that this is a totally new market opportunity, so it is making the circle bigger rather than taking market share away from current wine sales.”

Choosing the Right Packaging

  Each type of wine packaging has its benefits, so the choice largely comes down to the winery’s goals, budget and target consumer. However, different styles of wines do better in various types of packaging. For example, some wineries keep sparkling wine and aged red wines in bottles but put experimental and mid-range wines into alternative packaging to test it with their customer base. 

  To choose the right packaging for your wine, assess current customers as well as those you want to attract in the future. Consider how much and how often you ship wine to determine if alternative packaging can help save on shipping and transportation. Determine per-unit costs and ensure that new production costs will fit within your budget. Also, think about how a change in wine packaging may impact the perception of the winery’s brand. If using multiple types of packaging, it may be a good idea to keep a few things consistent – such as the logo or colors – across all forms, to keep your brand recognizable.

  Orr of TORR Industries would advise a winery looking to try alternative packaging to “understand the market, look at the viability of bag-in-box, and look at the growth curve.” His other piece of advice is to find a winery that does co-packing and set up a small contract packing arrangement to test out alternative packaging for your winery.

  For wineries looking to try packaging alternatives to glass for the first time, Broughton of Delkor suggested “looking for a system that has good capability, that can adapt to ever-changing needs and that can produce small pack and large pack counts.” Delkor’s Andersen suggested having a machine that can handle both traditional bottles and cans for single-serve. “Have a plan to address single-serve because demand is increasing, and your machinery must be able to keep up with this.”

British Columbia Wine Industry Hit Hard by COVID-19

vineyard staff plucking leaves

By: Briana Doyle

Canadian wine consumers are buying more wine than ever, yet a recent industry survey in Brit-ish Columbia indicates that the province’s winemakers are not seeing the benefits.

  Early in the pandemic, British Columbia liquor stores reported a 40% spike in sales. According to a Capital Daily report, in March and April, British Columbians spent an extra $90 million on alcohol, about $29 million of that spent on wine alone.

  However, according to a survey conducted by the British Columbia Wine Institute in collabora-tion with the British Columbia Grapegrowers’ Association and Leger Marketing, 83% of British Columbia wineries and grape growers have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

  The survey found one in 10 British Columbia wineries and grape growers at risk of closing due to COVID-19, with 58% seeing a revenue loss and 55% having reduced access to customers.

  “For growers, access to labor is always an issue, and with border closures and quarantine reg-ulations, this has been more challenging than ever,” said John Bayley, viticulturist at Blasted Church Vineyards and Board President of BCGA. “We have incurred greater expenses this year in maintaining the labor support we rely on from our colleagues from Mexico.”

  While 41% of British Columbia wineries reported an increase in winery direct sales, all distribu-tion channels have seen a decrease in sales due to the pandemic, particularly hospitality at 69%, followed by agency (43%) and liquor retail stores (41%).

  Financially, 66% of wineries believe it will take them one to four years to recover, with 35% ex-pecting their revenue to decline between 21% and 50% over the next six months.

  “I think it will take some time for the industry to see the full effects of COVID-19. Obviously for smaller wineries who depend on restaurant and wine shop sales – and many of them do – they’re going to feel the effects more immediately. But for others, it may take until the end of the season to fully understand the effects industry-wide,” said Kathy Malone, winemaker, Hillside Winery.

  As part of an effort to help the wine and hospitality industry recover from pandemic-related losses, industry organizations are pulling out all the stops to encourage British Columbians to play tourist in their own province.

  In October, the BCWI launched British Columbia Wine Harvest Month to draw attention to the industry’s importance to the province. The announcement was made in partnership with Desti-nation British Columbia, the British Columbia Hotel Association, British Columbia Restaurant and Food Association, British Columbia Dairy Association and British Columbia Seafood Alli-ance.

  “2020 has been like no other. Our industries were quick to respond and adapt during an un-predictable time, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Miles Prodan, President and CEO of BCWI. “This campaign brings local industry together to strengthen the collective and work col-laboratively to bolster local support and celebrate some of the finest this province has to offer.”

  Meanwhile, a new website and app, Wines of British Columbia Explorer (, aims to steer “staycationers” and road trippers to explore Brit-ish Columbia wine country this fall.

  The website and app include wine route itineraries and detailed information on more than 200 British Columbia wineries, including new hours and protocols to protect customers during the pandemic, whether there are picnic spots on-site, curated lists of specialty wines, organic vineyards, and if visitors are welcome to bring pets. It also includes a “taste test” tool to help customers find British Columbia wines that suit their palate.

  “This campaign really aims to bring our local wine, hospitality and tourism partners together to ensure a strong future for all of us,” said Kim Barnes, Marketing Director of BCWI. “We know many British Columbia industries are feeling the effects of 2020, and we want to keep the ‘support local’ message top of mind as we head into the winter season.”

  Throughout October, campaign promotional materials were distributed via local British Colum-bia wineries, hotels and restaurants, British Columbia liquor stores and all Wines of British Co-lumbia stores located in select Save-On-Foods. Digital and broadcast components include ra-dio spots, a YouTube series with cooking demos, ZOOM videos from the vineyard, blogs, har-vest wine pairings and curated wine routes, all aimed at promoting local wine, food and travel.

  Despite July sales reports showing overall growth in the wine category at 5.01% (up from 4.73% in June 2020), British Columbia VQA market share continues to trend lower than the All Imports market share – 18.81% compared to 19.13% last year.

  “As winery inventories begin to grow with, by all early indications, a great 2020 vintage starting to come in, this trend is worrisome for our industry,” said Prodan. “It highlights the need for the continued support of the British Columbia wine industry, not just from consumers, but in sound policies from all levels of government.”

  Only in Canada: Taco Bell launches Jalapeño wine; plus glamping in a wine barrel

  Now for a couple of quirky Canadian news items to leaven the doom & gloom: Taco Bell has launched its own brand of wine, which is only available in Canada, and an Ontario couple is getting media attention for their unique Airbnb listing: a converted wine barrel floating in a river.

  The well-known fast-food brand introduced its Jalapeño Noir in September, promoting it as the perfect complement to a new menu item: the Toasted Cheesy Chalupa, a type of taco made with fried bread instead of the typical soft or crunchy shell. According to Taco Bell Canada, the wine has notes of wild strawberry, cherry and beetroot.

  The Jalapeño Noir was sold only in Ontario via the Taco Bell website, and from selected loca-tions in Hamilton and Toronto via Uber Eats. The first two batches of the limited edition red wine, produced by Queenston Mile Vineyard in Ontario, quickly sold out. A third and final re-stock was released at the beginning of October.

  As for that wine barrel B&B, it’s located in Essex, Ontario, close to the Detroit border. The unu-sual one-bedroom houseboat is a converted red cedar wine barrel and is moored in the heart of wine country.

  The Airbnb listing notes the floating cabin is just minutes from several major wineries and fea-tures views of lush vineyards as well as an outdoor tiki bar-style kitchen, complete with a sink made from a whisky barrel. The barrel rents for $120 CDN per night. The next available book-ings are in spring 2021.